By Alf Anderson
As executive director of the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce, I have the extraordinary opportunity to see all the tremendous things going on in our region. Every year we watch people come from all over the world to tour our beautiful island and all it has to offer. Being involved with a region that is referred to as a “crown jewel of Maine” has a lot of advantages, but it also comes with an amazing responsibility.
Without a doubt, the biggest draw to our region is Acadia National Park. Oftentimes referred to as the “crown jewel of the park system” by many in the Department of the Interior, our park has welcomed millions of visitors to Maine. For many, we are a bucket list destination. In fact, the New York Times best seller 1,000 Places to See Before You Die lists Acadia National Park as a must-see destination. To make an even more exclusive list, Fifty Places to Camp Before You Die lists Acadia in its repertoire for those insistent on sleeping under the stars.
Being listed as America’s favorite place is quite an honor. Earning a title like that is not something that comes easily. It takes a lot of hard work by many small businesses, the park service and every down-to-earth Mainer who lives in our state. However, this title comes with a lot of upkeep and, up until recently, our “crown jewel” lost a little of its shine.
Acadia welcomes millions of visitors every year. That kind of visitation takes a tremendous toll on the infrastructure. While groups like Friends of Acadia have done a wonderful job of trying to keep up, it just hasn’t been enough to keep up with the deteriorating systems of the park.
For example, did you know the maintenance depot at Acadia is almost as old as the park itself? It is far from an historic building, and while the facility has served the park well, it has far exceeded its useful life. If you have ever been to the visitors’ center, you will notice it would be quite difficult for a disabled person to get to the top of the many steps at the entrance. Not to mention the many bridges, paths and roads that are in dire need of repair.
Congress has been underfunding our national parks for decades. It has led to billions of dollars in underfunding for Acadia all the way to the American Samoa. Thankfully, in a rare moment of tri–partisanship, our federal government finally solved the problem.
On Aug. 4, President Trump signed the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) into law capping off a massive multiyear tri–partisan effort to fund our national parks. The bill will direct nearly $10 billion over five years into funding backlogged maintenance projects, like the ones listed above, all over the country. This bill will also fund $900 million per year dedicated to staying on top of these projects while also improving the park system for generations to come.
As usual with any type of monumental federal effort, Maine led the way. I watched for years as various organizations held educational events for Maine’s congressional delegation at Acadia. Sens. Collins and King, and Reps. Golden and Pingree, as well as former congressman Poliquin saw the problem and took action on various fronts. All members of our tri–partisan delegation co-sponsored the bill that led to this incredible win for our country. They all deserve special recognition and thanks.
What does this mean for Maine? Well, quite frankly, a lot.
The GAOA will send over $60 million for backlogged maintenance projects to not only Acadia National Park but also to places like the Saint Croix International Island Historic Site as well as the new Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. That number doesn’t even include the ongoing funding from here on out to maintain these sites in real time rather than let them fester for decades and nearly a century.
So as Maine gets ready for another winter, we can rest assured that Acadia will be more prepared than ever for next summer’s visitors. Because of GAOA, our “crown jewel” will be shining brighter than ever next summer and for generations to come.
Alf Anderson is the Executive Director of the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce